When hip-hop legends Run-D.M.C. covered Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” on their 1986 landmark Raising Hell, guitarist Joe Perry noted, “It was the first time that if somebody mixed peanut butter and chocolate, it was fun to be a part of it.” Critics said the hit was the premier hybrid that blended the rock and rap genres, but they were sadly misinformed. For starters, every hip-hop head knows that proto-rap emcees would sample funk and rock n’ roll records and add them into their repertoire. Secondly, Run-D.M.C. had used several rock tunes before their signature song was released. Their standout “Rock Box” is a great example.
Oddly enough, while rock has been adapted into rap and hip-hop respectively, why has rock’s little sister been applied so little? Punk, a genre that operates on a DIY ethic is closely related to hip-hop in content, with messages about politics, struggle, prejudice, sex, debauchery and all that in between. So, here’s a list of some of the most influential punk masterpieces of all-time.
Blitzkrieg Bop by Ramones
The inaugural “Hey! Ho! Let’s go!” has not become an rallying outcry for all types of debauchery and good time fun. The head shaking bonanza with the epic three chord riff is still the face of catchy top 40 rock music.
Search and Destroy by The Stooges
Desolation-laden icy lyrics behind an intensified synchrony of staccato guitar chords as the sunshine rasp of a feisty 26-year-old Iggy Pop wails for someone to save his soul rings out over a collision of drums. Mixed by David Bowie, the pesky punk out did Lou Reed and the androgynous Ziggy with this sexy, thrash garage classic.
Psychokiller by Talking Heads
Qu’est-ce que c’est? When the little band from the New York City underground punk scene released their debut album they were competing against The Ramones, Blondie, The New York Dolls and Television as the poster children of punk rock. Memorable for its driving bass line, representing the inner dialogue of a serial killer is one of the most covered songs of all-time, influencing Ice-T’s “Cop Killer.”
Anarchy in the UK by Sex Pistols
Some four years after Alice Cooper’s angst-ridden “I’m Eighteen,” a trash-talking brush-fire tangerine ginger nicknamed Johnny Rotten auditioned for Malcolm McLaren who was traveling with the New York Dolls. Overwhelmed by Rotten’s ragamuffin flair, which included a tailored Pink Floyd T-shirt with the words “I Hate” stenciled in a felt-tip pen over the band’s insignia with their eyes blotted out—Rotten became the leading man of Sex Pistols. They were not above controversy and their first single, which assaulted traditional Britons’ communal conventionality and obsequiousness to the royal crown caused massive moral pandemonium for the ages and they became punk icons.
Hanging on the Telephone by Blondie
The unforgettable flamboyant art pop rave-up classic with the surf rock snare and Debbie Harry’s signature histrionic sex minx growl was the big bang of magnum opus Parallel Lines. Behind the tough girl glamour and herky-jerky fuzz rock sound, the band of boys and their fiery flaxen coughed up this legendary romp when they covered The Nerves.
Eighteen by Alice Cooper
Its soapbox confessional lyrics are about being that in-between age where as Cooper put it, “you’re ‘old enough to be drafted but not old enough to vote.” Funny thing is the heavy metal glam god was 23 when their heavy metal landmark Love It to Death was released. Noted as a proto-punk tour de force by both The New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine, its Alice Cooper’s snarl, and the clash and clang of roaring guitars that melted people’s faces off in 1971. In fact, he inspired an infamous orange haired brat to audition a cappella with the tune for a little group called the Sex Pistols.
Rebel Rebel by David Bowie
The last song stylized in sheer glam rock fashion, this was Bowie’s farewell to the genre that made him a superstar. Originally written for Ziggy Stardust musical, the gender-bender prose, and the superb-fabulous idiosyncratic riff that oddly recalls the Rolling Stone’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” was a lasting influence on various genres in music. He gives a big hug to the wierdos and what-nots here and changed the face of punk as we know it, going above and beyond his “Moonage Daydream” days.
London Calling by The Clash
A match point politically charged rant built behind post-apocalyptic madhouse of sound constructed of electro guitars, reggae basslines and Joe Strummer’s wildcard lupine howls made this the ultimate art punk classic. Written as if a dirge for the misinformed with military drums with no backbeat that ends in an S-O-S Morse code only add to the eerie paranoia-coated skid row that Strummer sings about.
Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) by Buzzcocks
Inspiration comes from the more uncanny resources and after viewing the musical Guys & Dolls in a TV lounge of Scottish guesthouse, the lyrics came out of the dialogue from the Broadway classic and composed the following day in a van outside of a post office. Reflecting on how heartbreak is a bloody mess, the intro begins with a sentimental Pete Shelley noting that his muse “spurn[ed] [his] natural emotions,” at a time when she pissed on them (too bad censorship).
My Sharona by The Knack
In love with a then 17-year-old muse Sharona Alperin, 25-year-old Doug Fieger was inspired for a two-month-long stint of songwriting, and out came the legendary lyrics and guitarist Berton Averre’s gruff power chord swing. No doubt one of the most important songs of the last 30 years, it inspired Michael Jackson’s rock ‘n roll classic “Beat It” and was sampled on Run-D.M.C.’s “It’s Tricky.”
God Save the Queen by The Sex Pistols
In 1975, Johnny Rotten was just another window-shopping mall rat outside of Vivienne Westwood’s fetish clothing shop SEX, before going on to become one of the most adored front men in rock ‘n roll history. Like “Anarchy in the UK,” their second single as perceived as bashing the monarchy, corporate control, hierarchy, duplicity, cerebral vacuity, principles and politesse, as well as placing a bull’s-eye on the noggin of Queen Elizabeth II. Seen as shock rockers because of the Rotten’s profanity and the guttural wall of noise behind him, the single turned heads and twisted light bulbs.
Holiday by Green Day
A verbal letter bomb to the American political conformity in the age of George W. Bush, the song references the France’s refusal to support the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust and the 43rd U.S. president. The song’s instantly recognizable chord progression and anti-war sentiments shifted Green Day’s pot smoking hapless douchebag appeal of the 90s into a self-made grown-and-sexy literati.
Blank Generation by Richard Hell and the Voidoids
Richard Hell, one of the originator’s of the porcupine-spiked hair and shredded and sharpie’d shirts held by safety pins punk look, knew a thing about teenage angst when he wrote the punk staple that set the standard for teenage wasteland disease. In fact, punk impresario Malcolm McLaren admitted that “Richard Hell was a definite, 100 percent inspiration, and, in fact, I remember telling the Sex Pistols, ‘Write a song like Blank Generation, but write your own bloody version,’ and their own version was ‘Pretty Vacant’.”
Pay To Cum by Bad Brains
The hardcore punk and reggae pioneers from Washington D.C. threw a funky white-hot atomic bomb into a land mime of pulsating ska oomph and this was their pay-off: an ultra-fast, kinetic ka-boom pow of guitar and machine gun drums about the limits of our human rights!
Blister in the Sun by Violent Femmes
With a rollercoaster tumble and roll guitar lyrics and disaffected, melancholy lyrics referencing sex, drug and alcohol and being “high as a kite,” is a punk favorite.
Gloria by Patti Smith
Playing at the CBGB alongside other punk legends Blondie and The Ramones, Smith and her band were working on developing an academic, womanly take on the world of rock ‘n roll when they did this drastic reimagining of the Van Morrison penned “Gloria.” First performed by his band Them in ’64, the popular three-chord proto-punk staple with garage rock roots blew up in infamy for his epic opener: Jesus died for somebody’s sins / But not mine. You’ve got to admit, that’s pretty intense. Only keeping the chorus, Smith and company wrote a composition built around teenage lust, lesbianism and dogma without batting an eye. Her own scrappy sex appeal would go on to be channeled by several other pop artists.
Personality Crisis by New York Dolls
No punk rock list should be with out the open of the New York Doll’s debut album, “Personality Crisis.” A gaudy, slippery-when-wet mental mind melt, the track is chopped and screwed and sloppy and noisy with a violent problem child delight. What else do you expect from punk?
Cherry Bomb by The Runaways
It’s hard to think of punk music without this signature cut, which oddly enough, was not released as a single. Sixteen year-old wild child jailbait Cherie Currie rocked out like her description by several critics, “the lost daughter of Iggy Pop and Brigitte Bardot.” Beautiful, scantily-clad in only a brasserie and undies, she gave future hell kitten Queen of Shock Rock Wendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics a run for her money. And Currie’s bratty sex pot guitarist Joan Jett was waiting in the wings to take her crown.
Bad Reputation by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
One of the most important songs in punk rock, Joan Jett came out with this gem at a time where women in rock were still being tossed aside as powder puff princesses. Who would have guessed that one of the full-fledged rage filled guitars-blasting epics would come from the rhythm guitarist of the most influential punk rock girl group? Paving the way for future hits like “Crimson and Clover,” and the jukebox battle royale “I Love Rock ‘N Roll,” Jett is in rare form on this valiant effort.
Just a girl by No Doubt
No way! This is a punk song? The kids from Orange County, California had a very small legion of fans in comparison to their now-massive legion of cardboard-waving paparazzi in 1995. A post-feminist record released at a time where Lilith Fair became rival to Woodstock, the track talks about the gender paradox, women’s struggle to find inner strength and independence in a machismo-juiced society and Gwen Stefani’s frustration with it all. The wah-wah new wave ska-punk guitars and the baby xylophone taps show a band that once clutched to male hindsight, now following in the footsteps of a woman and because of that, becoming pop icons.